Street Trends – How Today’s Alternative Youth Cultures are Creating Tomorrow’s Mainstream Markets

Joeri Van den Bergh (( Senior Researcher, Kids&Teens Marketing Research Centre, The Vlerick School of Management Co‐Founder and Director InSites, Internet research & consulting)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Van den Bergh, J. (2000), "Street Trends – How Today’s Alternative Youth Cultures are Creating Tomorrow’s Mainstream Markets", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 172-185.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Marketing to the target group of kids and teens is often considered a hard and difficult thing to do. It is especially a frustrating job to keep up with the latest trends and predict future youth successes. This book starts with a lesson for all those involved with marketing to kids and teens. They should stop wasting their time looking for the “hippest ” or “coolest” gimmicks and instead concentrate on understanding what young people are thinking.

Both authors’ know‐how comes from their experience at Sputnik, a New York based research agency specializing in youth consumer insights and forecasting. Misdom and De Luca don’t pretend they are some kind of modern Nostradamus: “There are no such things as futurists; there are no crystal balls or big secrets to unfold. Everything about the future has been molded by what is happening in the present” (p. xiii). If we want to understand how mainstream teenagers will be thinking in the future, we have to listen to the underground cultures now. Their thoughts and visions will “bubble up” in mainstream youth behavior. The trouble is: where do we find these trendsetters and how do we understand their interests? Street Trends is a fine first introduction into the minds of our youngest generation.

In the first chapter the authors unfold a quite critical view on traditional focus‐group and in‐depth interviewing techniques behind one‐way mirrors. According to Misdom and De Luca these types of consumer research are lacking the natural “reality” environment and often only mediocre respondents are recruited. Therefore this book is based on video observations of a global network of young correspondents frequenting clubs, galleries, coffee shops and schools, and talking to young artists, designers, skaters, and school kids. Excerpts of these observations are richly spread in citation boxes across the book and in interview sections (“word from the streets”) at the end of some chapters. The only added value of reading these time‐consuming parts is to prove that the authors are not wildly fantasizing on a trip caused by magic mushrooms or smart drugs which some of their interviewees tend to consume. This is one of the (few) weaker aspects that disturbed me of an otherwise interesting and enjoyable book.

Street Trends consists of two parts: part one, “The streets” identifies today’s most influential micro‐cultures. Part two, “The mindtrends shaping tomorrow,” delves into the concerns and interests of these cultures and deduces some cues for future trends.

Five subcultures are profiled in the first part:

  1. 1.

    (1) the collective intellect: ageless, classless thinkers and social activists who believe in integrity and political correctness;

  2. 2.

    (2) the soldiers for culture: globally and ethnically mixed artists spreading a message of alienation and forming their own businesses;

  3. 3.

    (3) the hip‐hop nation: a melting pot of urban communities, representing a powerful purchasing group;

  4. 4.

    (4) the speed generation: skaters, surfers, and rock climbers looking for the ultimate adrenalin rush by breaking their own boundaries;

  5. 5.

    (5) the club kids: skin artists using their style to shock and disconnect from mainstream, and living in fantasy glamour worlds.

The second part deals with different movements and changes in these subcultures that will affect interaction and consumption of mainstream youth. This is the most interesting part of the book. Where other authors on youth culture, such as Ted Polhemus in his Style Surfing book, make original Polaroids of the underground scenes, implications for marketers are often far to seek. Misdom and De Luca use their consulting experience to move one step beyond this mapping and offer sometimes daring views on future youth behavior. They regularly illustrate their findings with dozens of niche business ideas. This should have a stimulating effect on the creativity of every marketer reading this book. Here are some of the mindtrends described in the chapters of Street Trends:

  • Artificial “playsures”: youngsters are creating their own androgynous, drag queen, cartoon imaginative worlds in which they are transforming themselves into new synthetic personalities. This new surrealism has been used in the well‐known Diesel advertising campaign tagged “reasons for living.” It is also present in adventure and role‐playing computer and Internet games and in club wear. The authors predict that technology (such as speak technology and scratch‐and‐sniff tools) will enhance sensory stimuli in everyday consumption and modern drugs will help us control our mental mood.

  • The bionic being: this generation wants to transform their bodies and minds in something they have always wanted to be. DNA cloning and body altering are heavily discussed subjects in underground cultures. Energized snack foods and body and facial enhancing cosmetics will be big hits.

  • Freestyling: this is basically a no‐rules approach, stimulating individuality, creativity and spontaneity. The implication for marketers is that they should avoid the try‐to‐be‐cool approach and switch to reverse marketing, making their brands underdogs and lacking confidence as in the Sprite soft drinks campaign “Image is nothing, thirst is everything...”

  • Do it yourself: generally skeptical about government and leaders, youth cultures strive for independence and youngsters start independent businesses using partnerships and coalitions. This trend is also an escape from mass produced, advertised and homogenized brands. Small and local brands, homemade food and beverages and niche markets will increase in popularity.

  • Technorganic and the immaculate perception: usually regarded as fast‐talking and fast‐snacking, youth cultures are now turning to healthier food, environmentally aware behavior and recycled products combined with spiritualism (cf. “feng shui”) and technological advances. Companies should stick to a straight and honest corporate culture. The reality of pollution and environmental deterioration is also causing the search for products that fight germs and bacteria. For example: “The Tokyo Mitsubishi Bank in Japan has a new ‘total antigerm branch’ featuring ATMs that are made in antibacterial plastic and dispense disinfected cash” (p. 158).

All these and some other emerging trends are placed into a long‐term perspective and a historical frame of reference. This unique analysis reveals that many trends in youth attitudes and thinking actually bubble up every five or ten years and that the same core motivations, like individualism, anarchy and self‐realization, are universal.

The most complex part of marketing to kids and teens remains translating underground movements into mainstream trends and business ideas. Misdom and De Luca write: “The challenges for manufacturers will not be what products to create and market, but how to have a megabrand embraced by these future consumers.” It’s a bit regrettable that the reader of this book will have to find that out for himself, as the number of practical dos and don’ts linked with concrete product categories are limited, but Street Trends will give marketers working in kids and teens markets a guide to interpret youth culture, and it definitely is a good starting point for creative brainstorm sessions.

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